UK
15/09/2013 06:14 BST | Updated 15/09/2013 11:04 BST

'Daniel Pelka' Law To Make It Mandatory To Report Child Abuse

The violent death of four-year-old Daniel Pelka means teachers and carers who spot bruising and extreme hunger in children should be obligated by law to report signs of abuse, according to a new campaign.

Around 50,000 people have signed a petition for Daniel Pelka's Law, named after the four-year-old murdered by his mother and step father, after years of beatings and starvation.

Paula Barrow, a Manchester-based mother-of-two, began the petition on Change.org, to call on the government to make it mandatory for those who spot abuse to report it to the police or social services.

daniel pelka

Daniel Pelka who was battered to death by his mother and stepfather

"My own boy is turning six this week, and I was very, very upset and affected by the case," Barrow told HuffPost UK. "I couldn't get it out of my head, especially the fact he was at school, right in front of the eyes of adults supposed to be responsible for him. I couldn't understand it.

"I had read about Princess Diana's death, and the photographers who were prosecuted for taking pictures of her when she died, instead of helping. And I thought, that kind of law must apply in this case, a law against not helping. But it doesn't. I was stunned to find mandatory reporting wasn't the law here, as was everyone I spoke to.

"I don't want the emphasis to be on demonising professionals, but on prevention, and deterrent. There has to be a shift in attitudes."

Her petition is backed by five leading abuse charities, the National Association of People Abused In Childhood, Survivors UK, Respond, Innocence In Danger and the Survivors Trust.

The petition has been backed by shadow ministers Andrew Gwynne and Sharon Hodgson, as well as MPs Sarah Champion, Geoffrey Robinson and Lucy Powell.

Barrow pointed to the mandatory reporting laws in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, South Africa, Sweden, USA and New Zealand but there is currently no legal requirement of anyone working with children in the UK to report suspected or known abuse to either the appropriate local authority officer or to the police.

"Although child abuse is of course a crime, reporting it is – unbelievably - entirely discretionary.

"Along with many others, I find it incomprehensible that teachers, teaching assistants and other staff in Daniel’s school did not do more to help him," Barrow said in the introduction to her petition.

Coventry couple Magdelena Luczak and Mariusz Krezolek were found guilty of Daniel's murder last month and sentenced to 30 years in prison, but a court heard that doctors and teachers had seen Daniel with injuries, and school staff saw him fishing in bins and stealing from children's lunchboxes for scraps of food, there was no intervention by any of the agencies responsible for child protection.

Robinson, the MP for Coventry North West, publicly expressed his anger at Daniel’s school and at social services, calling for the resignation of key individuals, saying: “bureaucracy triumphed over common sense, care, and compassion... people seeing a kid beaten, starved to death in our own country. You can’t just say there is nothing we can do about it."

A serious case review into how education and social services systems failed Daniel is now underway, which could recommend such a change in the law.

Fay Maxted, the Survivor Trust's chief executive told HuffPost UK there were many reasons why teachers or other childcare workers might not report abuse signals. "It could be misplaced loyalty, doubts about their own judgement, or fear of being a whistleblower which gets in the way people making reports.

"But that's what we hope to avoid, a new law which doesn't trap people, but shows them the way to make a report that a trained professional can then investigate. Then there is no doubt, the law says I have to report my concerns.

"Daniel's case is absolutely heartbreaking, all signals were there and many people saw problems but the response was almost frozen in time."